Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No Calm During a Media Storm

In the summer of 1999, I had begun working for a member of the Kennedy family and his venerable law partner, both nationally renown environmental lawyers. The experience was one of a lifetime and something I will always cherish. Not only was I able to pay my way through law school, but I was also able to learn from some of the leading litigators in the nation. Through Kennedy’s charity work, I was even able to run into a few celebrities along the way. Who would of thought that this kid from Rocky Hill would have the chance to meet a few of his childhood idols. One particularly fantastic week, I met Harrison Ford, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, a member of Kiss, and even McGuyver. I can actually boast that I had the opportunity to dance to the song "The Tide is High" at an event. The odd part was that it was actually being performed by Blondie and I was dancing next to Tom Brokaw and Billy Crystal. I always try to act professional at these fundraisers, but how do you pass up a chance to meet Han Solo and a Ghostbuster? As a result of my job, I was given a small peek into the world of an overreaching media and adoring public. I saw how easy it was to forget that these celebs were "regular people." Common sense often went out the window when someone was in search for a picture, autograph or half eaten celebrity sandwich. I often saw this lack of common sense firsthand. I recall one charity event where I invited a fellow attorney to attend as my guest. To my horror, he had brought along a book about the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. He was asking members of the Kennedy family to sign it. Picture a guy coming up to you with pen in hand. "I have this book detailing the gruesome murders of your dad and uncle. Can you sign it?"

As the world focuses on the passing of Michael Jackson, I could not help but think of the media storm that surrounded the sudden death of another iconic figure. It's hard to believe a decade passed since the passing of John F. Kennedy Jr. As you may recall, he tragically lost his life on July 16th, 1999. About a week before his passing, I had a chance telephone encounter with JFK Jr. At the time, part of my job duties included answering the direct line to our office. It was something I enjoyed since you never knew who would be on the other line. This particular day it was JFK Jr. I remember being surprised that John had remembered my name from his earlier call. He asked me how I liked law school and working for his cousin. John seemed to have a personable quality that was commonplace in most of the Kennedy family members I had the pleasure of meeting over the years. From what I could tell, none seemed to rest on the laurels of their famous pedigree. Most were down to earth and had a sense of duty towards family, public service and hard work. Admirable qualities that everyone should strive for.

A few days after the call, I remember watching television when they announced JFK Jr's plane was missing. It was the first rain drop in a media storm that mirrored the one surrounding the death of Princess Diana only two years earlier. The media was relentless as non-stop calls from reporters, well wishers and conspiracy nuts came into our office. In a time when any family would ask for privacy, the prying became more intense. For some members of the media, the thrill of the chase for the latest scoop would supersede common sense standards of decency. On the day of the funeral, I was shocked that one reputable news program asked if I could provide them with the private cell phone number of a family member. It appeared they wanted to do a play by play interview from any family members at the ceremony. This family just lost three bright young members of their family en route to a wedding. Show a little compassion. Give them some space. In today's blogging, twitterific world, the intrusion on privacy has gotten worse. Connecticut's Eyewitness news, for example, is looking for people to blog from the Jackson funeral. They want reactions and mood readings. Tito cried. So did Bubbles.

I used to think that if you enjoyed some level of celebrity, you shouldn't complain that your privacy was invaded. It came with the territory. Now, I take a decidedly different view. Contrary to what my wife would tell you, I do not consider myself a celebrity. (Name dropping braggart, maybe...) Nevertheless, through law practice, I do feel some lawyers might get a inkling of what that constant invasion of privacy must be like (albeit a decidedly far smaller scale). Take me for example. In the city where I practice, I am one of only four or five attorneys serving a local Polish speaking population that numbers over 20,000 people. As one of the only Polish speaking attorneys in the state, it comes as no surprise that I often get approached with legal questions. As I become more well known in the community, I have noticed that it has begun to affect my private life. I have been approached while taking out the garbage, at Chuck E Cheese with kids in tow, at the dentist after an injection of novacane, at restaurants, grocery stores, even in line to the Church confessional and at funerals. (I even had a priest make an appointment with me as I was receiving Communion.) I remember once taking my wife to a little restaurant by the sea about an hour from our house. Imagine my surprise when two clients pulled up in a boat. The chance run in turned into a prolonged client conference. Although, I am absolutely grateful we have a thriving practice, there are days where you just want some time to yourself. It just seems that someone is always trying to deny you that private time.

Like the Kennedys, the Jacksons are an iconic American family which many people seem to have made a special connection. If you're old enough, you probably remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. You might remember images of a young JFK Jr. peeking out from under his father's desk or saluting his casket as the funeral procession passed. Or perhaps you remember the first time you saw Michael Jackson glide across a stage doing the Moonwalk. Now with the death of Michael, I cannot imagine what the Jackson family is undergoing. With the level of celebrity they have achieved through talent and odd behavior, it is easy to forget that they are just another family who has lost a loved one. I hope they get at least a little privacy during this difficult time for them. Unfortunately, that is probably impossible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When you practice in a smaller community, you are often the only game in town. As a result many clients expect you to know everything there is to know about the law.